#EndSARS: It’s Not About SARS but Police Brutality

#EndSARS: It’s Not About SARS but Police Brutality

…Others say Problem is Systemic, there’s Need for Fundamental Reform …Policemen Involved in Extra Judicial Killings Are Regarded As Super Cops…Ex Lagos CP  Although what gave fillip to the raging protests, spearheaded by youth across the country, is the excesses of members of the special Police unit, Federal State Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and State Anti-Robbery

…Others say Problem is Systemic, there’s Need for Fundamental Reform

…Policemen Involved in Extra Judicial Killings Are Regarded As Super Cops…Ex Lagos CP 

Although what gave fillip to the raging protests, spearheaded by youth across the country, is the excesses of members of the special Police unit, Federal State Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), who are also accused of extra judicial killings, the campaign has since been expanded to include the need not only to reform the Police but other security and government agencies, which actions they contend, have undermined the rights of the people.

The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari says it is working to resolve all the demands of the protesters. The Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu has also dissolved the infamous FSARS and SARS with the promise of replacing it with a new outfit Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team (SWAT) but the protesters who have continued their campaign and rallies, blocking major access ways in different parts of the country, do not seem impressed.

No doubt the protests which have been particularly well organised, have presented a novel way of mass agitation. The resort to bitcoins and other online mode of raising funds, the supply of food and drinks, the deployment of ambulances to take care of the injured and the support of a team of lawyers including the use of the tools of social media have been the high points. These have presented a unique organisational model and have compelled a study for revolutionary movements.  Could this be the beginning of the Nigerian spring or revolution?

Governance Issues

According to former Edo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Dr Osagie Obayuwana, “It has presented the opportunity to remove the lid and massively canvass burning issues of governance that seem to have held the country down for many years.”

He believes the country, now regarded as the poverty capital of the world, needs an urgent dialogue on poverty. “Nigeria: A Nation in Need of Serious Dialogue. Subject Matter: Abolition of Poverty. Quick!” Obayuwana, also president, Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), posits in a facebook post.

His view is shared by former Editorial Page Editor of The Guardian, Dr Rueben Abati, who now presents Morning Show on Arise Television. “It’s not only about the brutality of the Police but other security agencies that are also used to subvert the fundamental rights of the people. The struggle is about impunity in government agencies that are used to oppress and harass the people,” says Abati, also former spokesperson to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.

Fundamental Problem

The Catholic Bishops Conference in Nigeria (CBCN) in a statement by its President, Bishop Augustine Akubeze says, “The EndSARS protest is a microcosm of the fundamental problems in Nigeria. The audacity and impunity with which the SARS officials have been operating all the while is a manifestation of the failing state of Nigeria…just ending the SARS will not solve the enormous problems of Nigeria, because it is futile treating symptoms of a disease when the root cause is known.

“A centralized Police Force in Nigeria is primarily responsible for the lack of grassroots accountability for the crimes perpetrated by the SARS and their likes.

Restructuring

“We reiterate that restructuring this country is a desirable path to be towed given the various developments in this nation. The knee jerk reaction of the administration by abolishing the SARS and setting up the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team portrays either the absence of an understanding of the entire problem or a lack of sincerity to address the problem.

“The Nigerian Government must realise that what the youths, on behalf of Nigerians, clamour for under the code name #EndSARS is a total reform of the entire Police Force and not a change of name; they call for a reform of all our government institutions and a reform of the entire nation. They are asking for a system that will be hard on crimes and criminals in the society within the ambience of the law, while at the same time treating every human being, citizens and visitors alike, with respect and dignity.

Cry for Justice

“Moreover, the #EndSARS protest is a cry for justice for all victims of the SARS and Police brutality, and a call for the prosecution of all those responsible for these crimes against humanity and their superiors under whose leadership such heinous atrocities were committed against innocent Nigerians.

“We must not lose sight of the fact that #EndSARS is also a call for a review of the welfare of the Policemen who have been badly deprived by the system,” the Catholic bishops said..

The echoes from the streets are however that living in Nigeria has become unbearable. From the hike in electricity tariff to increase in the cost of fuel and the astronomical rise in cost of food, some of the protesters say living in the country is now a hell. “The price of rice is now N30,000, how can we survive?” one of the protesters in Benin City, the Edo State capital, retorted.

Protesters’ Demands

From the initial five point demand, the protesters seem to have embraced a seven point demand. It now vacillates from the earlier demands which include:

  • The immediate release of all arrested protesters
  • Justice for those killed by police brutality and compensation for their families
  • An independent body to investigate and prosecute misconduct
  • Independent psychological assessments and new training for dismissed SARS officers who want redeployment into units that the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu has pledged to create and
  • A pay rise for police so they are “adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens”

In the new #7for7 list, the protesters are demanding institutional reforms, reduction in cost of governance, constitutional amendment, education reforms, health reforms, youth affairs and public office reforms

Old Wine in New Bottle

Like the Catholic bishops, some have also poo pooed the dissolution of SARS and the creation of a new outfit, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team as some “old wine in new bottle”. Human Rights Lawyer, Mr Mike Ezekhome (SAN), derisively says, “SARS or SWAT, by whatever name called, are the same 6 and half a dozen; the same moin moin, akara and beans; the same Hamlet and the Prince of Denmark.”

Extra Judicial Activities

Former Police Commissioner in Lagos State, Mr Fatai Owoseni, claimed that the Police leadership encourages extra-judicial activities in SARS. His view is supported by both a retired deputy inspector general of Police (DIG) and a retired commissioner of Police, who prefer not to have their names in print.

According to Owoseni, such officers using extra-judicial means to carry out their duties are called “super cops”.

Hakeem Odumosu, Lagos State Police commissioner says, “In the course of repositioning SARS in Lagos, I had a marathon meeting with my officers, Area Commanders, Tactical Commanders and Heads of various departments to move into action and enforce compliance immediately”.

“Besides the directive, there will be a monitoring team for enforcement’.

Speaking with assurance that it will not turn out to be like similar orders that were not complied with, he noted that there will be more supervision now than what it used to be.

“Additional directive given by me is that they must not go for operation without booking their arrival at the Area Commander’s Office within the place, so that the officer would know when and how they operate.

Detention of Suspect

“Secondly, they must not detain anybody in their cell any longer. They can only detain a suspect at the Area Commander’s Office or at my office at the State Headquarters.

“All the SARS officers in my command will also sign an undertaking in writing which will be used against them in case they go against the operational code of ethics.”

On the issue of Policemen operating on the roads without uniform, Odumosu disclosed that some units’ members ordinarily should not wear uniform while on duty.

But he also noted that all members of SARS and Anti-kidnapping Units must put on uniform during operation for identification.

“We have two units of SARS, federal and state, but in terms of going against the ethics of the profession, any superior officer like me can deal with them”, the CP said.

“We also give both units directives, and I always implore the public that once there seems to be any infraction, they should let the authorities know.

“Operatives must always go out in uniform and it must be relatively in pursuant of criminals in the community they are to operate.

No Stop & Search

“They no longer have the authority to stop any vehicle on the road for search.

“They can only move out now when there is information or distress call”.

Owoseni however stated that ending SARS, as demanded by aggrieved people over alleged extra-judicial killings, will not solve crime problem, urging critical auditing and restructuring of SARS to give it facelift instead of outright ban.

“Outright ban is not the best way to go. I think what the Police should do is probably audit the oversight of the internal mechanism that is in place”, the former Lagos CP said on the same programme where Odumosu spoke.

Extant Rules

Explaining what has gone wrong with SARS, he said: “What is happening is that the Police have refused to discharge their duties in accordance with the extant rules and regulations. “The so-called FSARS has rules and regulations that guide them. They are consistently trained to abide with this rule.

“And when issues like this happens, nobody goes back to check the measures to see the level of compliance.

“Everybody now in the Tactical Unit whose job is not necessary has decided to wear T-shirts; either they put ‘Gallant’ or ‘Mopol’ on it which is wrong.

“You will find out that Commanders at the state level don’t bother to even check what these guys are doing, to the extent that once you see some bad looking policeman on road, everybody says it is SARS.

Wearing T-Shirts

“FSARS or SARS in itself is not bad as portrayed, but you find out that at the divisional levels, DPOs and their men are fond of wearing T-shirts and, once you see them on the road, everybody calls them SARS.

“The last time this uncomely behavior became viral, the Office of the Vice President set up a committee and I am aware that the Office of the National Security Adviser did the same thing.

“Measures were rolled out but the compliance units did not bother to comply.

“Some of us fought this issue in the commission for the leadership not to create unnecessary problems.

“You see people working with SARS moving from one station to another circulating violence. We also have a society that is now militarized.

Working on Intelligence

“The Special Anti-Robbery Squad is supposed to work based on intelligence, not just to go on the road.

“This is not done anywhere in the world, where a Police man would stand on the road and be checking people’s telephones.

“This challenge continues as long as the Police leadership favours officers that use extra-judicial means to carry out duty and count them as super cops.

“With these, they encourage all sorts of things that happen in the command.

Drafting Officers to FSARS

“To be drafted to the Federal SARS, the condition is that you must have served for a period of three years in the force.

“But now, a new constable cadet is taken and posted to SARS and other squads.

“I may not want to blame the leaders for this because during posting, letters come from all quarters requesting one thing and another.

“The Police authorities must stand their ground to say that they want to work within the extant rules and regulations”.

Asked about how SARS can achieve its purpose, Owoseni answered, “You have all sorts of laws that have not been enforced or implemented. So also with the institutions we have now.

“Directives are issued out and no one implements.

Police Commissioners

“Some Commissioners of Police don’t even know that they have responsibility for all the Police contingents in their states.

“Some of us took the challenge when an IG said SARS should be reporting to headquarters and I resisted it in Lagos.

“You must know what you have as power within the Constitution.

“Some of the Commissioners of Police, sad to say, do not know that they have authority.

“You have Commissioners who are not ready to speak the truth to the leadership.

“And, of course, they will not allow their junior officers and DPOs under them to speak the truth.

“In Lagos, we didn’t have Anti-cultism Squad during my period.

“In Ogun State, they have all sorts of units that are not necessary.

“Police regulation is there as a guide. But they have deviated from the original thing.

“That is what the leadership should sit down on and audit; that is, the internal audit mechanism and know how they can implement it.

“We should not have gotten to this level in the first place. Of course while doing that, the society needs to be enlightened because the society is militarized.

“The country may go into violence now that there is a directive that no policeman should be on the road.

“A former IG, Mr. Arase, designed uniform for them to know who the real SARS is.

“Some Commissioners of Police in the states have refused for one reason or the other to abide.

Force Leadership

“The leadership of the Police should be held responsible for their lack of supervision. The leadership must also take those officers accountable for that.

“The Force leadership over compensates violence; officers that do extra-judicial killings, those are the ones that even the press and the public celebrate.

“Once you do that, the young officer would think the best way to grow in the institution is to kill people and get promotion. We must stop that.

“All those units created have extant rules that they work with. The regulations are there. You cannot serve in SARS or Criminal Investigation Department, CID, if you have not served up to three years. “But now, new boys are drafted into these units with violence intents, compensated and called super power cops. There must be procedures based on professional knowledge”.

Routine Police Work

The former CP added: “Basically, part of the problem is that routine Police work is turned into specialized Police work, and huge population of officers are moved there.

“Checkpoint operation is very unnecessary. Patrol duty is better than checkpoints.

“In civilized societies, you don’t really have checkpoints except for a short time operation caused by an emergency.

“Patrol is a better option. Such duties are done without Tactical Units.

“If the Police really want to address the issue, there must be a system of monitoring.

Internal Oversight

“The internal oversight must be strengthened. People should not be posted into the offices of the provost for punitive reasons.

“It is so bad now that all the Police are interested in wearing all manners of jackets and T-shirts, carrying guns on the road. Nigerians are not animals.

“Zonal Offices are created for administrative purpose, but I see AIGs in Zonal Offices compete with Commissioners of Police in duties now. It is wrong.

“Duties must be discharged within the context of the extant rules and regulations and we must bring people into account for doing wrong things. “We must also stop the proliferation of uniforms. I notice with dismay that when a new unit is created, they assigned a uniform to it.

“It is also noticeable that many people who are not Policemen wear T-shirts designed with ‘Gallant’ or ‘Mopol’ on them”.

Speaking on why CPs and DPOs can’t control FSARS and SARS, Owoseni explained, “It is because Commissioners don’t know their powers as enshrined in the Constitution.

“It is one of the things that make some of us run into trouble with the Force leadership.

“A Commissioner in a Command has great responsibility of oversight and mechanism of all the Police units in a state and should take responsibility.

Police Uniform

“It is a constitutional thing.  All sorts of uniforms that Police wear now are not made by Force order.

“We have a dress code. But it is disheartening that some officers wear all sorts of caps, shoes and anything as uniform. We must stop that. And we must re-educate our people.

“Nigerians must also help to reduce the violence in the society. When you get information that ‘area boys’ are fighting and, on getting there, you notice that they are throwing stones, using all kinds of weapon, the crowd will be agitating for a uniformed Mopol or SARS, and not the normal uniformed Police.

“That’s wrong and it is not the way to go. There are laws to guide all these abuses. We should stop setting up panels and measures that we don’t enforce”.

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